The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project recently procured a cache of government documents that expose a disturbing pattern: left-wing NGOs seeking to mobilize the state against political opponents on specious accusations of “violent extremism.”
According to the report, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) urged Washington State’s “unified counterterrorism” center to investigate me, Daily Wire host Matt Walsh, and social-media influencer Libs of TikTok, under the false pretext that our reporting on gender theory in schools and transgender medical interventions constitutes “hate,” “extremism,” and “violence.”
The campaign to mobilize law enforcement against critics of gender ideology or critical race theory is not a limited affair. The ADL and a related organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), have developed it as a scalable, repeatable tactic to silence political opponents.
The playbook is simple. The SPLC and ADL paint a target on an individual critic, then mobilize a decentralized network of private and public assets to degrade, censor, and punish that target. On the private side, the groups activate left-wing journalists to smear the target in the press, demand that social media companies censor the target’s online speech, and encourage left-wing editors to denigrate the target on his Wikipedia page. On the public side, the groups send notices to state and federal law enforcement, hoping to mobilize the government to open investigations and intimidate critics with the threat of state repression, even incarceration.
Sometimes it works. The SPLC and ADL have damaged the reputations of innocent journalists, driven negative media coverage against mainstream conservative groups, and influenced social media firms’ censorship policies. Seeing the success of this model, other left-wing pressure groups have followed suit, demanding full-scale state repression. The National School Boards Association, for example, persuaded the Biden administration to mobilize the FBI’s counterterrorism division against parents who opposed critical race theory.
How are groups such as the SPLC and ADL able to call upon such a wide range of assets? By exploiting their reputations for being honest brokers. The SPLC and the ADL have been able to trade on their supposed moral authority on racism and anti-Semitism to silence critics of social-justice politics. Both organizations have abandoned their original, limited missions in favor of becoming general-purpose attack machines for the Left. The SPLC and ADL’s crusade against “anti-LGBTQ+ hate,” for example, has nothing to do with racism, poverty, or the South, nor with anti-Semitism or defamation of Jews.
Fortunately, the public can increasingly see through these attempts to destroy the reputations of conservative commentators and reach its own independent judgment about the merits of each case. The SPLC and ADL’s recent campaign against “anti-LGBTQ+ hate” provides a good illustration. Despite the hyperbolic rhetoric, a thoughtful observer can rapidly discern that the predicate of the campaign is false. Critics of gender ideology, pornography in schools, and child sex-change interventions are not motivated by hate, nor are they advocates of violent extremism.
In fact, if one must pin labels of hate, violence, or extremism on one faction in this debate, the charges should be reversed. Gender ideologues, not their critics, promote the hatred of biological reality, disseminate extreme ideological and pornographic literature in classrooms, and advocate for (and perform) violence on children’s bodies.
There may, however, be a limit to the SPCL and the ADL’s approach. Though the organizations accumulated prestige over the decades, their authority appears to be waning. At one time, inclusion on the SPLC’s “Hatewatch” list was a death sentence for an organization or individual’s public reputation. Likewise, in the past, if the ADL accused a public figure of anti-Semitism, the consequences would be severe and instantaneous. No longer. As these organizations devolve into partisan entities, defaming innocent people, they have lost their former power. Now, public figures can simply ignore them or counterattack, at a rapidly diminishing cost.
Critics should work to accelerate the delegitimization of left-wing pressure groups. These organizations should not have the power to hurl slander without consequences, nor should they be seen as trusted sources for censorship and law enforcement policies. If these groups resume a focus on fighting legitimate instances of racism and anti-Semitism, they will find broad support. If they proceed in their devolution into left-wing smear machines, they will continue to degrade their reputations to a point of total ineffectiveness. The choice is theirs.
Photo: Jonathan A. Greenblatt, national director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images